Howl’s Moving Castle is a young adult fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones, perhaps one of the best known authors writing fantasy and science fiction with over 30 books published.  This particular work of hers is a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book, an ALA Notable Book, and an ALA Best of the Best in YA.  It has two loosely connected sequels, Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways.  These two books both have different main characters than the first novel, but the main characters from Howl’s Moving Castle do make appearances.

As the eldest of three girls, Sophie Hatter has resigned herself to being the least successful daughter in the family.  So it is hardly surprising to her when her two sisters get to move away to become apprentices (with the youngest in the position to have the greatest adventures, of course!), leaving her behind to make hats day after day.  In spite of her talent for making lovely hats, Sophie’s life remains rather dull until the Witch of the Waste comes to her family’s shop.  The Witch of the Waste has heard of Sophie and views her as competition – and for this crime she turns Sophie into an old lady and renders her incapable of telling anyone she is under a spell.

Sophie accepts her new fate just as easily as she accepted her old one, but she decides she’d better leave before her stepmother finds her in this state.  Eventually she finds herself near the noisy moving castle belonging to the infamous wizard Howl, reputed to steal the souls of girls.  As an old woman, Sophie figures she’s safe and the idea of sitting by a nice warm fire is too alluring to turn down.  So she commands the castle to stop and climbs aboard to the dismay of the wizard’s apprentice Michael, claiming she wishes to wait for the Wizard Howl as the only one who can help her.  Once she is settled in, she discovers the fire in the hearth can talk.  It is actually Calcifer, a fire demon who made a contract with Howl and now must remain in the wizard’s fireplace.  Calcifer can see that Sophie has been enchanted and makes a deal with her: if she can figure out how to break his contract with the wizard Howl and free him from his agreement, he’ll make her young again.

Ever since I saw the Hayao Miyazaki’s movie based on Howl’s Moving Castle, I’ve wanted to read the book.  I purchased it one day when I saw it in the bookstore, but I was recently reminded I should read it when Ana raved about it.  With some further encouragement from Chachic and Twitter nagging urging from Janicu, I decided to take a break from the long book I was reading and finally read this book.  Thank you to all of them for the incentive to finally read Howl’s Moving Castle – it was a charming original story that still had a classic fairy tale feel.

As could be expected from the woman who wrote Tough Guide to Fantasyland, an examination of the usual fantasy tropes, Jones has some fun with twisting conventional storylines.  The beginning seems as though it is heading in the direction of “Cinderella” at first with the revelation that Sophie and Lettie’s mother died.  Afterward, their father remarried and the two girls ended up with a younger half sister, Martha.  However, there were no wicked, ugly stepsisters nor was the stepmother evil or even partial to her own daughter. Furthermore, from the opening lines, we’re told Sophie is doomed to failure as the oldest sibling:


In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if you set out to seek your fortune. [pp. 1]

Because of this, Sophie always expected her youngest sister to be given the best opportunity for success while the other is put in a position to find a good husband (as she’ll not amount to much as the middle child, either).  In spite of Sophie’s resignation to her own fate, her sisters are not as ready to be dictated by their positions and actually quietly trade places.  Nor does Sophie end up as the least successful sister – she may have it rough for a while but she still finds adventure and romance.  At the same time, that doesn’t mean her sisters don’t have a role to play or end up miserable failures in the end, either.

Once Sophie is transformed into an elderly lady by the Witch of the Waste, the rest of her character changes, too.  Before this, she just accepted her circumstances and was rather timid.  When she first meets Howl (without even realizing he’s the man accused of eating girl’s hearts), she appears terrified and he calls her “a little gray mouse” because of it.  After she’s an old woman, she’s still rather accepting of her lot, but she soon notes that her point of view has altered.  Elderly Sophie is much more bold – she doesn’t fear Howl at all, as evidenced by how she bursts into his castle and takes charge.  She bullies Calcifer into getting what she wants. When she needs an excuse to stay in hopes that her hex can be broken, she tells Howl she’s his new cleaning lady.  This prompts Howl to ask  her who said she was, to which Sophie responds, “I do.”  In some ways, the Witch of the Waste did Sophie a favor as she takes control of her life instead of spending her days talking to hats until she naturally becomes an old woman.

Sophie is not the only charming character; of course, there is also Howl himself who works wonderfully as a likable yet extremely flawed character.  He’s a charismatic, talented wizard who is also compassionate with a tendency to undercharge the poor who come to him. At the same time, he’s also prone to fits of temper, a womanizer, and a very vain man who spends a couple hours in the bathroom getting ready to go out every morning.  (There’s a brief interview with Jones in the back, and I rather liked her comment about finding it surprising that girls wrote to her saying they wanted to marry Howl: “My opinion of Howl is that, much as I love him, he’s the last man I would want to marry. Apart from anything else, I would want to get into the bathroom sometimes.”)  The fact that he has so many bad and good qualities makes him such a fleshed out, believable character and that’s part of what makes him so endearing and memorable.

Although it wasn’t a comedy, there were many great moments of humor spread throughout the book.  Jones has a way of wording phrases and writing scenes that is wonderful.  There were so many great scenes where Howl and Sophie clashed with her need to clean and snoop and his need for messiness and privacy, and I loved Sophie’s thoughts about the rumors she’d heard about Howl as she explored his castle:


She cleaned the bathroom next. That took her days, because Howl spent so long in it every day before he went out.  As soon he went, leaving it full of steam and scented spells, Sophie moved in. “Now we’ll see about that contract!” she muttered at the bath, but her main target was of course the shelf of packets, jars, and tubes. She took every one of them down, on the pretext of scrubbing the shelf, and spent most of a day carefully going through them to see if the ones labeled SKIN, EYES, and HAIR were in fact pieces of girl. As far as she could tell, they were just creams and powders and paint. If they once had been girls, then Sophie thought Howl had used the tube FOR DECAY on them and rotted them down the washbasin too thoroughly to recall. But she hoped they were only cosmetics in the packets. [pp. 91]

The conclusion and how everything tied together was also well done. It would be fun to look for all the hints about breaking the contract and more about what caused the Witch of the Waste’s ire at Sophie on a reread.

Howl’s Moving Castle is a delightful story.  It’s not a familiar fairy tale, but it seems like one with witches, demons, curses, magic, and wizards all accepted very matter-of-factly as part of the world. The main characters are flawed enough to be realistic but not so flawed that they’re not likable.  To top it all off, there’s an undertone of humor and a nicely wrapped up ending.  This is a definite keeper.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Other Reviews:

A Dance With DragonsNo, it apparently still isn’t done yet. However, A Dance With Dragons is close enough that it actually has a release date! George R. R. Martin’s website reports that editors and the publisher have set a date of July 12, 2011 for the fifth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Conveniently enough this is just a few months after the beginning of the Song of Ice and Fire HBO series, so we’ll at least remember the first book even if we don’t remember the next three because it’s been years YEARS since the last one came out.


It must be the winter reading doldrums – two slow reading months in a row.  This time it was mostly because it took a long time to finish one book since I finished one book the very first day of the month and didn’t finish it until the day before the end of the month.  I’m a good percentage of the way through another book now, though, so I’m hoping that means this month will be better, especially since I want to try to read some of the books for the Nebula Readathon run by The Book Smugglers (even after I failed miserably this month by not reading The Dispossessed for the Women of Science Fiction Book Club – I bought it and was all set to read it but with this one book I started on the first or second day of the month taking up all of the month it just didn’t happen).  There’s no way I can read all those books for the Nebula Readathon, especially considering a few of them are two or more books into a series I haven’t started. I do want to at least read some of them starting with The Native Star by M.K. Hobson, though, which I plan to read next in an attempt to have it finished for March 13.

Books read in February:

4. The Sea Thy Mistress by Elizabeth Bear (Review)
5. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Review in Progress)
6. The Sworn by Gail Z. Martin (Review Forthcoming)

Favorite book of February: The Sea Thy Mistress, which is a fantastic conclusion to the Edda of Burdens trilogy.  I’m so glad I have this whole series in hardcover – it’s now one of my favorites because it’s beautifully written with deep, troubled characters. I love how Elizabeth Bear took Norse mythology and made it her own with this setting and I really hope she returns to this world some day.

I am off to work some more on that review of Howl’s Moving Castle!  What did you read in February and what did you think of the books you read?  Does anyone else seem to be experiencing the winter reading doldrums?

Late Eclipses is the fourth book in the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. The first three books in this urban fantasy series are Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation and An Artificial Night.  This latest installment will be available on March 1, and the fifth book, One Salt Sea, will be released in September of this year.  According to McGuire’s website, there will be at least two more books after this – Ashes of Honor in September 2012 and The Chimes at Midnight in September 2013.

While putting groceries in the car with May and Danny, Toby is approached by a messenger from the Queen of the Mists.  The Queen has ordered Toby to appear at Court, which seems rather ominous considering the fact that she’s not at all fond of Toby.  Once Toby arrives at Court, she is rather surprised to see Tybalt, who as a king himself has no fealty to the Queen of the Mists.  Tybalt warns Toby that the Queen has no love for her, then creates a huge scene leaving Toby both confused and angry.

There’s not much time to dwell on what happened since soon Court is called to session.  Toward the end the Queen calls Toby forward and grants her the title of Countess of Winterrose, which was very unexpected since changelings do not get titles, even passed down from their own parents.  Afterward, Tybalt comes back and insists on talking to Toby about this being a trap, but before he gets a chance to he is interrupted by Marcia from the Tea Gardens.  Lily, the Undine in charge of the Tea Gardens, has become very ill even though Undines never get sick.  Not knowing where else to turn, Marcia came to Toby for help.  By playing out a commotion of epic proportions, May and Tybalt distract the crowd so Toby can slip out to see Lily for herself.

What Toby observes is not encouraging – Lily looks like death.  Although Lily is more concerned about her children being taken care of, Toby of course determines to figure out what is causing Lily’s illness and save her friend.  In order to do so, she’s going to have to face her past – both an old enemy and a secret her mother has been keeping from her.

The first three books in this series were fun, and they just keep getting better to the point where this has become one of my series addictions.  When this one showed up, I was very excited and started it as soon as I finished the book I had been reading at the time.  It was finished in about 3 days, and I was not disappointed –  this is now my favorite book in the series so far.

As is usual for the series, the first chapter had a few places where it filled in some background information, but I suppose this is probably considered necessary just in case someone starts reading with this book.  In any case, kudos are in order for McGuire for always keeping it interesting with Toby’s sense of humor and how she words it.  Even though we’re being told some information we already know if we’ve read the other books, it’s at least interspersed here and there and told in a different way each time.  There is none of that copy-paste-repeat style of infodumping that goes on for pages and pages and reads the exact same way every time (if you ever read a Baby-Sitters Club book during your childhood, you know what I mean).

Once it reaches chapter two, it takes off and never lets up. Although the previous books were pretty well-paced, this one moved even faster and a lot happened over the course of the book.  In this installment, we learn more about Toby’s mother, Amandine.  Also, it answers some questions that came up in the previous two books that had severely piqued my curiosity – namely, why Toby was able to do some of the magic she has done and what Tybalt was hiding in the previous book.  This changes a lot while opening up a lot of new possibilities, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the next books.

Another point in this book’s favor was the amount of scenes containing Tybalt (particularly the end of chapter two and beginning of chapter three which were made of pure win).  When Toby sees Tybalt at the Queen’s court, she notes that he has presence.  This is absolutely true, and I love that this has already been illustrated before she even mentions it.  Tybalt is a character who really comes to life and nearly everyone wants to see more from him and waits for any scene involving him.  He has all the best lines, and he does indeed have literary presence, although this is partially due to waiting to see Toby’s reactions to him.  Although there is more of my favorite character, I’m not sure I like some of where some of the relationships are going by the end of the book:

In some of the earlier books, I’ve had some trouble believing in Toby as a PI because, quite frankly, she’s been dim when it comes to solving some of the mysteries.  Happily, she was much smarter in this book and I didn’t have this problem even though it was more mystery-focused than the third book.  This isn’t to say she figured everything out immediately, but there were good reasons for her to not know everything.  Plus she did have a better handle on the situation than most of those around her.

This book also shows yet again that not everything is always going to end up happy in this series.  McGuire lets sad events occur, and she doesn’t wave her magic author wand to right all wrongs and set everything the way it was in the end.

Late Eclipses had everything I’ve come to love about the October Daye series and then some since it exceeded my expectations.  It’s a lot of fun with some very satisfying revelations and is the strongest installment in the series yet.

My Rating: 8.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the author/publisher (sent by the publisher at the request of the author).

Reviews of other books in this series:

Other Reviews:

This week I received two review copies of books coming out in March.

Dante ValentineDante Valentine: The Complete Series by Lilith Saintcrow

This is a massive omnibus containing all five of the books in the Dante Valentine series: Working for the Devil, Dead Man Rising, The Devil’s Right Hand, Saint City Sinners, and To Hell and Back.  Totaling around 1300 pages, the trade paperback edition containing the complete urban fantasy series may be a little too large to hold up well – my copy came with the back cover already coming off.  Reading about working for the devil sounds like fun, though, so I’m planning to give the first book a try at some point.  This edition of the books will be available on March 7.

Necromancer. Bounty hunter. Killer.

Dante Valentine has been all three in her life. But in the beginning, she was a Necromancer for hire. And while she was choosy about her jobs, there were just some she couldn’t turn down. Like when the Devil showed up at the door and offered her a deal. Her life – in exchange for the capture and elimination of a renegade demon. But how do you kill something that can’t die?

Dante Valentine, one of urban fantasy’s hottest series, is compiled into one volume for the first time. Included in this omnibus edition are: Working for the Devil, Dead Man Rising, The Devil’s Right Hand, Saint City Sinners, and To Hell and Back.

The Neon CourtThe Neon Court: Or, the Betrayal of Matthew Swift by Kate Griffin

This is the third book in the Matthew Swift series, following A Madness of Angels and The Midnight Mayor.  I’ve actually been curious about this series since the first book came out, and I’ve now received the second and third book as review copies.  Considering the first book is a bargain book on Amazon right now for about $7 in hardcover, I think it’s time to complete the series so I can actually start it (I’m going to order it as soon as I finish writing this up, actually).  The Neon Court will be available on March 24, and it is only $10.99 in hardcover on Amazon right now.

Kate Griffin is also known as Catherine Webb, author of young adult fantasy fiction that has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal.

War is coming to London. A daimyo of the Neon Court is dead and all fingers point towards their ancient enemy – The Tribe. And when magicians go to war, everyone loses.

But Matthew Swift has his own concerns. He has been summoned abruptly, body and soul, to a burning tower and to the dead body of Oda, warrior of The Order and known associate of Swift. There’s a hole in her heart and the symbol of the Midnight Mayor drawn in her own blood. Except, she is still walking and talking and has a nasty habit of saying ‘we’ when she means ‘I.’

Now, Swift faces the longest night of his life. Lady Neon herself is coming to London and the Tribe is ready to fight. Strange things stalk this night: a rumored ‘chosen one,’ a monster that burns out the eyes of its enemies, and a walking dead woman. Swift must stop a war, protect his city, and save his friend – if she’ll stop trying to kill him long enough for him to try.

This week the Nebula nominees were announced.  The entire list can be viewed by clicking the link, but the nominees for best novel are:

The Native Star by M. K. Hobson
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
by N. K. Jemisin
Shades of Milk and Honey
by Mary Robinette Kowal
by Jack McDevitt
Who Fears Death
by Nnedi Okorafor
Blackout/All Clear
by Connie Willis

This year 5 of the 6 nominees are women, which is nice to see since the past couple of years have only had one novel by a woman each year.

I’ve only read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but this looks like a pretty interesting list.  The Native Star and Shades of Milk and Honey are both books I’ve been wanting to read – I actually almost picked up the former last time I was at the bookstore and now I wish I had.  I’ve been waiting for paperback to get the latter.  Echo is the fifth book in the Alex Benedict series, but the series sounds like it could be pretty fun. Who Fears Death is a new title to me, but it sounds like a book I’d like to read.  Connie Willis is on my to-read list, but I’ll probably start with Doomsday Book.

The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy also looks like a great list, although I have yet to read any yet (3 are on my wish list and 2 more are in series I want to start):

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
White Cat by Holly Black
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch
The Boy from Ilysies by Pearl North
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner
Behemoth by Scott Westerfield

I was particularly thrilled to see Megan Whalen Turner was a nominee since I love her Queen’s Thief series!

In a recent interview about Firefly being aired on cable, Nathan Fillion said:


If I got $300 million from the California Lottery, the first thing I would do is buy the rights to Firefly, make it on my own, and distribute it on the Internet.

This has, of course lead to many people wanting to contribute to the cause of bringing this fantastic but short-lived TV show back with new episodes. There’s now a new website with the self-explanatory domain name  Patrick Rothfuss, the author of The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear (which is coming out next week!), wrote an open letter to Nathan Fillion about how he would like to contribute the proceeds from the book to helping buy back the show when he has more money than he knows what to do with.  It’s quite an enjoyable read.